Willie Banks

PLEASE NOTE: After helping hundreds of veterans get their lives back on track, our Veterans New Life Haven facility closed in January 2014. VSO is no longer offering housing services.

On many nights, as the sun set over Fort Lauderdale, Willie Banks found himself alone sleeping in parks and alleyways and on sidewalks and bus benches.

The former U.S. Army Infantryman was left to defend himself against robbers, drug addicts, and other homeless men who severely beat him, stole his few worldly possessions, and belittled him into thinking he was worthless.

My life started again here. They embraced me and made me believe in myself.

He lived on the streets for three years until a social worker at a Veterans Administration hospital told him about Veterans New Life Haven, a transitional sober living housing center run by Veterans Support Organization.

Within days, he got a room at the facility and was given a job.

“My life started again here. They embraced me and made me believe in myself,” he says.

Life was never easy for Banks.

Born in Miami, he served in the Army for three years in Germany and Fort Riley in northeast Kansas. Following his service, his mother died and he went to live with relatives who introduced him to drug dealing and a criminal life.

He later got married and had four children, but he was spiraling downward as he landed in prison, developed a drug habit, and struggled with mental illness. He couldn’t hold jobs. Eventually, he lost his home and ended up homeless.  

His life turned around at VSO’s Veterans New Life Haven.  

VSO social workers helped him quality for federal housing vouchers for veterans HUD VASH. They made sure he took medication, stayed clear of illicit drugs, and reported for work at VSO’s thrift store where he hung up clothing and invited passers-by to come inside.

Before long, Banks bonded with other veterans living at Veterans New Life Haven, and together they helped each other overcome their challenges.  

Today, Banks lives in his own apartment. He remains drug-free, volunteers at a church, and is in regular contact with his children after years of painful separation.

“I am focused now and got myself together. I am on the right path,” he says.